In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Atticus hide the fact that he had been appointed to defend Tom, and how does this action make Scout feel about her dad?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 16 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout overhears some men at the courthouse talking about the fact that Atticus was appointed by Judge Taylor to take the Tom Robinson case. The men are called the Idlers' Club because they hang around the courthouse watching court proceedings. One of the men jokes about how Atticus reads too much. Another man says that Atticus only thinks he knows what he's doing. Then, someone reminds the men that Atticus was appointed by the judge to defend Tom. The final remark, however, demonstrates what many people in Maycomb feel about Atticus's appointment: "Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That's what I don't like about it" (163).

This news is bittersweet for Scout. She feels that if she had known that her father was told to defend Tom Robinson, and that it wasn't his choice, then she could have used that information to defend Atticus to Francis, Cecil Jacobs, and others. She thinks that maybe the family would have been able to avoid some of the persecution they endured for almost a year. Scout is pretty confused about the situation, but if she could recall at that moment the times that Atticus explained why he was determined to do a good job on the case, she may not have been confused. For example, when Atticus tells Scout in chapter 9 that some people think he shouldn't defend Tom, she asks why he is doing it. His answer is as follows:

"For a number of reasons . . . The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again" (75).

Atticus does not tell his children that he is appointed to defend Tom because it is the right thing to do in his mind anyway. He doesn't "hide" it from his kids because it is irrelevant. He simply doesn't talk about it because, appointed or not, Atticus takes the case because he wants to give Tom Robinson a real, quality defense, not a pretend one created just for show.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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